Is Rink Safety an Issue?
Safety at ice rinks and arenas is in the headlines again. This time it is over a court case in Belfast brought by a family whose daughter was hit by a puck during warm up at a game.
Rink safety across the world has increased over the last 10 plus years. High netting is seen behind the goals and the height of plexi glass has been increased. But is every rink taking safety as seriously as they could?
The Odyssey Arena and the NIA are two arenas that comply to IIHF standards. High nets behind the goals and international height plexi glass help to separate fans from the ice and keep pucks away. There are still some that find there way into the fans area but these are slower deflected ones. Some rinks have also employed netting all round such as Ice Sheffield but there is a general feeling that this does make the fans feel more separated from the players and action. And herein lays the problem.
How do you protect fans and keep them involved in the action?
The number of incidents of fans being hit by pucks are rare and serious incidents rarer still. That does show that the balance as it is, is looking in favour of the current arrangements. The interesting point raised by this case though is that the incident took place during warm up.
Warm up sees tens of pucks on the ice, which does make it hard for fans to keep an eye on every one as they can during the game itself. The case argued that despite the netting, glass and announcements the lack of a referee to keep pucks under control warrantied negligence. A point that is not based in ice hockey as players never deliberately shoot the puck into the crowd or even anywhere except at the net and there is nothing a referee could do to stop a puck leaving the playing area.
Some accidents do happen and rinks and hockey arenas do have a good fan safety record. It is perhaps far that some older rinks could do better though. Low plexi glass at some arenas could do with being replaced. Peterborough for example could do with some higher plexi glass and Blackburn with some higher netting behind the goal.
At the end of the day the fact incidents are very rare is a good testament to the safety at rinks. However arenas, rinks and club operators cannot rest and become complacent for there are new fans going to games every week that will not be used to seeing pucks and the speed of the game. That said for as long as clubs continue to make sure they warn spectators, check plexi glass and netting regularly and ensure announcements are clear I am sure that ice hockey anywhere in the world will continue to be a safe and friendly sport to watch that will continue to delight all demographics of society.